Ngqwele Dube, Sports Correspondent
BULAWAYO is set to explode tomorrow when 12 teams, including East African guest nation Kenya, begin battle in the 2017 Cosafa Women’s Championship in what promises to be an exciting 12 days of football.
The regional showcase is set to be a build-up for the African Women’s Championship qualifiers that start early next year.
Zimbabwe will be hosting the competition, which returns after a six-year hiatus, for the third time having previously played host to it in 2002 and 2011.
All the matches will be played at Barbourfields and Luveve Stadiums, with soccer enthusiasts set to watch the games for free after the local organising committee decided to waive gate charges.
The 12 nations have been drawn into three pools of four teams, with the group winners and the best-placed runner-up advancing to the semi-finals.
Most of the countries are already in Bulawayo and yesterday saw South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar and host Zimbabwe taking turns to feel the pitches at the two venues ahead of tomorrow’s kickoff.
South Africa and Namibia trained at Luveve while the Zimbabwe and Namibia were at Barbourfields.
Zimbabwe, who qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games last year, will compete against two-time bronze-medalists Zambia, Madagascar and Malawi.
Neighbours, Zambia and Zimbabwe together with South Africa are favourites to lift the cup.
Zimbabwe’s head coach, Sithethelelwe Sibanda feels they are prepared to defend the trophy but would not be taking any team for granted.
Zambia coach Albert Kachinga believes his side will provide a stern test for the hosts.
“We have played Zimbabwe on several occasions. We have lost and we also won some games. The chances are 50-50, but with adequate preparations and with a good mind-set we can beat them,” he said.
Group B contains Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique and Swaziland in what will be a tough pool to predict.
Kenya coach Richard Kanyi has included a mixture of youth and experience in his squad, and says they are looking forward to being the second East African side after Tanzania to compete in the regional championship.
Group C will be a battle between South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana, with SA likely to be heavy favourites given their pedigree in the competition.
However, South African coach Desiree Ellis decried the fact that they did not play any significant friendly match.
“Not playing a game is a bit of a setback but we had a practice match against boys from the School of Excellence and it was a good exercise as it showed us a couple of things that we still need to work on, and we will fix those before we face Lesotho,” she told cosafa.com, Cosafa’s official website.
Tomorrow: Namibia v Botswana (10:30AM), Zambia v Malawi (2PM), Zimbabwe v Madagascar (4:30PM) — all matches at Barbourfields Stadium.
Thursday: Mauritius v Swaziland (10:30AM), Kenya v Mozambique (2PM), South Africa v Lesotho (4:30PM) — all matches at Luveve Stadium.